The H&M store at Menlyn Park Shopping Centre which was trashed by EFF supporters during a protest against a hoodie advert perceived to be racist in January. Picture: African News Agency (ANA) Archives
The H&M store at Menlyn Park Shopping Centre which was trashed by EFF supporters during a protest against a hoodie advert perceived to be racist in January. Picture: African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Ghosts of the past come back to haunt luxury fashion brands amid Black Lives Matter protests

By Corinne Gretler and Thomas Mulier · Time of article published Jun 8, 2020

Share this article:

Fashion brands such as Versace, Saint Laurent and Gucci have posted messages pledging solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement after a number of luxury boutiques suffered looting in recent days in top locations such as California's Rodeo Drive and New York's SoHo.

Gucci reposted a poem by writer Cleo Wade on Twitter and Instagram about how to end racism and bigotry, while Prada uploaded a statement that it was outraged and saddened by the injustices facing the black community. French cosmetics giant L'Oreal posted "Speaking out is worth it" on its social media accounts. Swedish apparel chain Hennes & Mauritz kept it simple with "Let's change."

View this post on Instagram

Words by @cleowade

A post shared by Gucci (@gucci) on

The industry now faces a public-relations challenge in the US just as it suffers store shutdowns and weakened global demand caused by the pandemic. By voicing solidarity with the black community, brands are trying to gain credibility, despite the risk of appearing crass following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Several of them are still trying to live down racial controversies they sparked in the past.

"It is imperative for these brands to be sensitive to cultural differences and respect each and every one," Luca Solca, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, wrote in an email. "Failure to do so, even involuntarily and by accident, exposes brands to severe consequences."

H&M has shuttered 95 of about 600 stores in the US due to the unrest. That brings the global tally of shop closures to more than 1 300. The Covid-19 outbreak has already led to almost a third of H&M's network shutting down. The company also said it's donating half a million dollars to organizations such as Color of Change and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Last year, Kering's Gucci withdrew and apologised for a sweater resembling blackface images, and in 2018, Prada removed figurines from window displays after they were called out for a resemblance to racist caricatures. Kering said Tuesday it's making a donation to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Campaign Zero, an organization that's trying to reduce police violence in the US.

Some were quick to describe the industry's latest social media postings as hypocritical, including UK model Munroe Bergdorf. She was dropped by L'Oreal in 2017 after making comments against racism and white supremacy in the wake of the protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. Bergdorf said brands are taking advantage of a public-relations opportunity.

"Where was my support when I spoke out?" she tweeted in an expletive-laden response to the French cosmetics maker.

L'Oreal couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Many chains shuttered down amid the protests. Adidas closed stores across the US after lootings were reported in its shops in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. In addition to a post with the word "racism" crossed out, the German shoemaker tweeted rival Nike Inc.'s "Don't Do It" video against racism, and Nike responded with a like.

H&M had to close some stores in South Africa in 2018 amid protests against an ad that showed a black child modeling a hoodie with the text "coolest monkey in the jungle."

"We also acknowledge our past mistakes and they have made us acutely aware of how much we still need to learn," H&M Chief Executive Officer Helena Helmersson said in a statement released Monday in response to the latest unrest. "As a company, we are growing, but we can and must do better."


Share this article:

Related Articles